In attempting to sift through the possible choices for an espresso machine for my shop, I have realized that all the features ad infinitum are starting to confuse me. So I thought I would conduct a simple question-and-answer post. Please keep your comments in the order of the questions, but feel free to clarify your thoughts if necessary.

Taking into account that I will be getting a 2-group, semi-auto, please answer the following:

1. What features do you consider essential in a commercial espresso machine?

2. What features are nice to have but not necessary?

3. What do I want to avoid in an espresso machine?

4. What espresso machine would you choose for your startup shop?

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1. Availablity of trained service personnel - If you select XYZ as your machine of choice and you have to fly in someone from across the country for service/troubleshooting, you may not be happy.
2. Availability of parts (without depending on overseas shipments)
3. What is your budget?
4. New or used? (related to the budget question)
5. How have you decided on a 2-group machine?

Maybe I am way off base, but there are lots of factors that go into choosing a machine. Lots of folks here have experience with multiple machines, but with training and practice, most folks can pull a great shot from almost any machine.

Ron, the Country Guy
To Ron's question, which will actually answer all his questions, my budget would be in the $6,000-$8,000 range, used or new, unless that is more a 3-group price ( I would be thrilled to pay less, but I know that my espresso machine shouldn't be the machine I skimp on, or the grinder, for that matter!) I arrived at a 2-group because most shops across the country find that a 2-group is quite adequate for their customer base. I live in a small, Southern town where I am having to educate the public on quality coffee. If I lived in a large metropolitan area with a customer base that already had a grasp of quality coffee, then I could see going with 3-group.

To illustrate my community's grasp of coffee: We don't even have a Starbucks. The only espresso machine in town is at the McCafe, a Melitta SuperAuto that dispenses milk along with the shot (blech!). So Starbucks is actually a big deal to people around here. One of my bakery customers recently came through the drive-through and ordered a coffee, which I brew in a Fetco brewer into a Fetco dispenser. She told me that she tried my coffee for the first time last week, and "It was just as good as if it were from Starbucks!" I smiled, and told her I hoped it was better than Starbucks, and then I left it at that. Now, from my perspective, that wasn't a compliment, but from hers? It was quite the praise. So I choose to interpret it that way.
1) at least a dual boiler (one for brewing water and one for steam/hot water dispenser). PID system.

2) preinfusion is awesome, but not technically essential. individual boilers for each group. paddle groups.

3) I would avoid a manual (lever) machine.

4) for my shop, it would probably be a synesso hydra. But it sounds like what would work best for you may be a La Marzocco Linea with .6mm gigleurs and a PID system. They are great machines, easy to work with, backed by LM distributors/suppliers/technicians all over the place. I learned on a linea, and it was truly a joy to be on. For the above machine, they run $7,500 on

As I look at the site, though, I see they are selling a GB5 for $8,700. Thats probably a better machine, and if you can afford it, I would suggest getting that one.

Best of luck on your quest!
Hey Paul,

For your reference, I have worked on the following 3-group machines, each for at least a couple consecutive months
A. Nuova Simonelli Aurelia (the same features as is used on the Regional/USBC circuit)
B. La Marzocco GB/5 (the previous competition machine on the afforementioned circuit)
C. Dalla Corte Evolution
and a couple of shifts on a Nuova Simonelli PID'd Victoria Arduino (lever, baby!). Also, I've taken mental notes about machines that I've seen at shops I respect. Now to your questions.

1. What features do you consider essential in a commercial espresso machine?
The ability to showcase your coffee excellently and consistently. To me, this means a machine that only has as many bells and whistles that I would actually use, an interface that is made of buttons or switches that are durable and large, and looks and feels good to the baristas who will be using it.

Your first obligation is to the coffee. Which roaster do you plan on carrying? What are their recommend brewing temps? If you're planning a bit of variety in your espresso you might want to look into a machine capable of changing brewing temperatures easily, along with the prerequisite temperature stability. If you're not into that, well, it's an unnecessary "bell/whistle."

As far as number of groups, you'd want as many groupheads (and thus, current espressos brewing) as a barista can handle. Two might be all you need... I've always been around 3-group machines, and have used all three simultaneously, but if you can't utilize all three groups at a time, then maybe you don't need to spend the money for a third group.

2. What features are nice to have but not necessary?
OK, I don't want to languish on the grouphead thing, but I just remembered why a third group comes in handy. With two groups, you can brew a shot in one and load a second shot while the first in going, having a kind of staggered flow going. So then the question of cleaning comes up. A third group is great when one is being backflushed/cleaned/becomes unusable. It's a fantastic way to stagger cleaning without losing productivity.

Ron brought up some good points above (#2 & #3). Definitely buy the best that you can afford; but stuff (gaskets, steamwands, baskets) go through wear and tear, so having parts accessible, affordable, and replaceable should be a factor. LM's and NS's have 58 mm baskets, and tend to have parts and knowledgeable service people spread across the country. Other machine manufacturers have fewer distributors/branches in the USA. Dalla Corte, which features a machine with the BEST accessibility under the hood, is largely on the west coast USA and Italy, so good luck finding somebody nearby. For ease of finding parts and service I'd recommend any La Marzocco machine (this industry was built on Super Jolly's and LM Linnea's--which is what Starbucks used to use before they went to Super Automatics).

3. What do I want to avoid in an espresso machine?
It's less what to avoid, and more a consideration of "what don't I need?" I'm imagining that each shot is being pulled to best express the coffee. That said, I think volumetric/timed shots are unnecessary. I don't have much used for visual displays. I think rocker switches are more reliable/durable than buttons (which admittedly is a problem I've had on La Marzocco GB/5's). I like tight metal--not too much play--and a casing that looks as tough or as pretty as I want it to be.

4. What espresso machine would you choose for your startup shop?
Dalla Corte Evolution. I like its styling, ease of accessbility under the hood, and its ease of customization (i.e., changing brew temps because each head has its own boiler) is amazing.

Good luck!
1. Beyond what EVERY machine should be able to do, I consider temperature profiling/stability and ease/reliability of service essential.

It's a machine, it WILL break or need repairs. Spending 3 days finding a technician that can service your machine could bury your business.

Having temperature profiling as an option (read as a machine with PID) allows you to really dial in your espresso. Maybe one day it needs 201.8 and the next it needs 207.4. You need a machine that accommodates this.

2. Pressure profiling/variable preinfusion, volumetric dosing (semi-auto), no-brainer add-ons like auto frothers.

3. Not being able to have it serviced locally. Being strapped to the machine's limitations (like not being able to have reliable brewing temperatures).

4. I've been at this a while, but still not with my "own" shop. That having been said, I LOVE the Slayer.

I got to play around on it for quite a while at SCAA/WBC in Atlanta and it really impressed me. This machine has the variable preinfusion that I spoke of not being necessary earlier, but I'm at a point now where I find it to my (and my coffee's) advantage to be able to have this ability. The attention to detail that these guys put into building and designing this machine is absolutely mind blowing.

Slayer not your thing? Linea all the way.

The beauty of the Linea is how versatile it is. Buy it stock and find you need a PID? Just add one on. Have a stock one with PID and want to add paddle groups? Just add them on. There are so many helpful sources out there (Espressoparts immediately comes to mind) that can help you work on one of these and build it into your dream boat.

Finding people to service a Linea is usually extremely easy as well.


Any more questions message me on FB
What do you expect your volume to be?

@ bry- My volume is uncertain at this point, as a coffee shop has never been started in this town. However, due to my planned location, in the downtown business area and close to the county courthouse, I think I can anticipate a steady flow of perhaps 10 people an hour coming in, with bursts up to 20 to 25. I plan to offer non-espresso based drinks to appeal to the non-coffee drinkers, as well as light snacks, desserts, pastries, with wifi and comfortable seating in the mix. It will be a place for business people to meet, grab breakfast or lunch, get that midmorning pick-me-up capp or latte. You get the idea. If you are coming to the Southeast Reg. Barista Jam, we could discuss it more in depth.
Planning on it. Working out some financial details. Hopefully see you then.

A two group La Marzocco Linea or GB5 will do the trick for you. It has temperature stability, proven performance and is rock solid. I've had a Linea 3 group since 2004 and have never desired more (until recently). It's what I own (I have three) and what I am specifying for my new shop that opens this fall.

Outside of that, the Nuova Simonelli Aurelia is a great choice. Solid performing machine at a lower price point with an extensive service network of technicians.

Beyond that, the other choices start to narrow and falter because of their limited service networks. Synesso and Slayer both suffer from that problem and you need to be fully committed to servicing their machines before you jump into bed with them.

The until recently comment above referred to the new pressure profiling machine that's supposedly coming out the end of 2010. Very exciting and it's a machine I'm dreaming of owning now. It too is a La Marzocco.
I agree with lots of what's been said so far, including the importance of local service. I think 3 heads are better than 2 for the added flexibility and width in case you find that you need to run 2 baristas for a busy shift or event.

For my money, its hard to beat a Linea in our area, though I like the AV configuration for our area if resale value is a consideration.

Not sure if I mentioned on the other thread, but we will have a couple of different machines here at the jam for you to get some time on. FB80, LM paddle group, Astoria +4U, and Aurelia. If you plan to be at the reception Thursday you can check out the older Astoria Argenta we run at the shop, and there are a couple of Rancilio Classe 10s here too. The Linea 3AV that was at the Dilworth training center has found a permanent home elsewhere (snif), so will not be available for us to play on.

You can save some money with a good used machine, but it is a gamble that can go wrong in a hurry. I would not buy one unless you had a chance to see it in action and had it pulled out by your tech OR were ABSOLUTELY certain that it had been prepped for storage and stored properly and only briefly. Also, you should make sure you schedule the install for several weeks prior to open in case it does not transplant well. I have some horror stories...

I'd be happy to talk equipment with you a little more when you are here, and will keep my eyes open for solid used machines as well.
Lots of good info here. @ Brady, I do plan to be at the reception, and I am excited to be able to get my hands on such range of manufacturers and models. I hope those with skillz won't mind educating a newbie. A newbie with passion, obsession, and drive, fortunately. Nothing like trying to teach someone something when they don't give a rat's behind whether they learn it or not. I find that making great coffee fits my OCD just perfectly. :)
OK no one has put in a good word for super automatic machines yet, which I find very surprising. If you are trying to get people accustomed to great coffee, super auto is the obvious choice. If you are trying to get people into the artsy, learn-about-coffee-from-your-barista-as-they-make-your-drink approach then yes, a semi-auto is the way to go. Creating a taste for a product from scratch is much easier than creating a culture around a product from scratch. Let's say your first mission is to get the general public to accept and enjoy espresso and look at the pros and cons of super auto vs. semi auto.
Semi-Auto Cons:
1. Anyone you hire will need a lot of training to consistently pull great shots from a semi-auto seeing that prior barista experience will be rare. Hiring will be a nightmare seeing that your ideal candidates should have a love for espresso, at least a basic knowledge of espresso from seed to cup, plans to stay on with you for a long time, heightened ability to multi-task and a clean freak. In Seattle you have likely candidates everywhere. In your small Southern town, not so much I'm guessing. Hire the wrong person and they could easily ruin your equipment within the first year.
2. Many of your customers will probably be trying espresso for the first time in your shop. Most will only give you one chance to wow them before writing off espresso all together. With all the different variables involved in creating the drink off a semi-auto, there is a pretty high risk factor if your goal is to get the entire community on board with drinking lattes on a daily basis.
3. You are maybe testing different kinds of espresso to gauge what the community can handle. Again, with all the variables involved in a semi-auto it will be frustrating to pin down differences between coffees

Semi Auto Pros:
1. Looks good. People are impressed with the amount of work that goes into preparing a drink from a traditional machine. They look "old-fashioned" and classier than super autos.
2. Smells good. Super autos contain the puck drawer and most aromas coming off freshly ground beans. Good smells can certainly add to your atmosphere.
3. True to the cafe culture. Again, if this is what you are trying to create in your community then super autos cannot compete.

Super Auto Cons:
1. More expensive to repair and maintenance.
2. Puts you more in the competitive arena with McCafe
3. Tourist espresso snobs will get all snobby on you
4. Some have the hoppers encased in the machine, customers may think you are not grinding real beans

Super Auto Pros:
1. May be a good intro to espresso in your community where all hail the mighty mermaid
2. More counter space and power outlets available for other equipment
3. Less training, faster service
4. Has all the fancy stuff mentioned by others and more! (PID, shot/drink counters, etc)
5. Obviously a consistent shot, good for finding the coffee you will end up using
6. Simple cleaning

You see, McCafe's Melitta machine is the best there is. It has grinders that SELF ARTICULATE meaning every time that drive-thru window is opened, the burrs automatically reset and find the perfect grind. The parts within are solid brass and steel meaning they will LAST. It has two boilers like the Marzocco everyone is telling you to get. So while you may not think McCafe is a big threat, they did not mess around with their espresso program. Granted, I think they load their drinks with too much flavor and a lot of stores can't quite get the cleaning schedule right which may be the case at your local McCafe but with their machines, the people are getting the exact same thing every time.
As far as technical service, a Melitta tech is in your area and Melitta has a full line of machines that he or she can service.
If you are going traditional, I recommend the simplest models that Wega or Astoria carries. There is a reason they haven't changed their design for years. I love Marzocco and Synesso and Dalla Corte andSlayer and Simonelli too but I think for your audience, the best of the best may not be necessary. No one will care about the brand like they do in the Pacific NW.
I hope this is helpful! Good luck! If you want more info about super autos or traditional, I'm full of it, this here is just the tip of the iceberg.

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